Review: The Tempest (RSC)

A fresh wind is blowing through the RSC in the form of the latest production of The Tempest.

Not only does it feature Alex Kingston as the first female Prospero in the company’s history of staging the play, it also marks the company’s first production in its Power Shifts season, focusing on the theme of a world in climate crisis.

The play’s green credentials extend to the set itself with the use of recycled materials, props and costumes from previous productions. Plastic bottles, bags and fishing nets strewn strewn across the stage, are also used as props in what many see as a triumph by set designer Tom Piper.

The Tempest, RSC

Introducing a climate change agenda to Shakespeare’s famous storm was always going to be a bold move – and from what I’ve read, opinions are divided on how well this translates. But one could argue it does succeed in keeping the Bard’s work current.

On an island full of noises, a mother and daughter strike a truce with nature to survive. Then one day, their long-lost enemies sail into view on the horizon. Against the power of a furious sea, the reunited foes are forced to confront their pasts and themselves.

It marks a welcome return for Kingston, who made her name at the RSC 30 years ago and who is simply spellbinding in the lead role of the wizard Duke. The role is cleverly reframed for a woman – although, who confusingly, still retains her Duke of Milan title.

The Tempest, RSC

She is more than ably supported by a stellar cast including Jessica Rhodes as innocent Miranda, Heledd Gwynn (Hedda) as the fairy spirit Ariel; Joseph Payne as Antigone and Tommy Sim’aan whose Caliban displays perhaps more light and shade than we’re used to. Simon Startin and Cath Whitefield provide most of the jocular moments as the drunken Stephano and Trinculo.

From the lighting to the sound and staging (it is spectacularly framed by a collapsed proscenium arch), the production is artistically on point and thoroughly engaging.

The Tempest, RSC

The Tempest asks us to examine the delicate balance in our personal relationships as well as with the fragile ecosystems around us. What damage do we do to each other – and to the natural world? In the end, young love brings hope for a better life: perhaps healing ourselves and mending the planet are one and the same thing.

Director Elizabeth Freestone’s pertinent and modern production continues to offer plenty for the Shakespeare purist – but its Kingston’s Prospero which truly puts the wind in its sails.

The Tempest plays at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford until March 4th. Call 01789-331111) or visit here to book tickets.

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